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Although environmental issues are not always among people’s main worries in this region, the environment is seen as being highly important to their liveli-hoods, and also for their coping strategies and their socio-cultural values. Birds are often considered an integral part of the environment and play numerous roles in people’s lives, sometimes directly related to their livelihoods.50Birds are seen by some inhabitants as an indicator of environmental health and are therefore useful in addressing conservation issues. Many believe that bird populations are being threatened and declining, and various (human-induced) causes have been suggested, some of which overlap with those found in the literature on A-P mi-grant birds threats, such as deforestation and the exploitation of birds (Mihoub et al. 2010; Zwarts et al. 2009; Thiollay 2006a).51 However, existing literature on this topic is based on very limited field research in the Sahel and little is known about the link between environmental change in the Sahel and the numbers of migrant birds that winter there (Adams et al. 2014). Adams et al. (2014) have established that two land-use changes. for which most evidence exists, namely the loss of wetlands and fewer trees in woodland habitats, are impacting nega-tively on birds, although not on all species. It has been suggested that the most critical Sahelian land-use change for birds involves the extent of trees and scrub in rural landscapes (CCI 2010b).

Trees play an essential role in local inhabitants and authorities perceptions of the environment and conservation including specific aspects related to birds.

Trees also have a (perceived) crucial link with local livelihoods and affect, for example, flooding levels and soil degradation. Trees form an important and visi-ble link between bird conservation and livelihood improvement. Seedlings are regularly planted by the communities and LCGs, but the long-term success rate of such planting has been limited and many have died due to a lack of water, livestock browsing, and trampling. A lack of care for the planted trees was noted (Van den Bergh 2014). Similar results were noted by Adama Belemvire (director of Études Action Conseils, pers. comm. December 2014). Assigning reforestation resources to protect and care for planted trees is suggested and staff who look after these areas should (partly) be rewarded according to proven results. Indeed, Larwanou & Saadou (2011) mention positive results from sites in the Sahel zone

50 Including as coping strategy, namely hunting wildlife, including birds, in periods of extreme drought.

51 Two factors mentioned in the literature, namely the spraying of chemical pesticides and overgrazing, were not mentioned by local inhabitants. Related aspects, including chemical fertilizers and a decline in vegetation, particularly the herbs, were however touched upon.

of Niger where farmers took care of trees, including through the preservation and protection of planted trees and the monitoring of cutting. They also note that wa-ter harvesting techniques and farmer-managed natural tree regeneration can ac-celerate the rehabilitation of tree diversity. According to Bernd de Bruijn (senior international policy officer at Vogelbescherming Nederland, pers. comm. No-vember 2015), several projects in Burkina Faso have shown that regeneration proved to be more successful than reforestation efforts, and Reij (2000) indicates that initiatives based on farmers protecting and managing natural regeneration on their farms and/or off their farms, is a low cost and effective way to achieve re-greening (see also Botoni & Reij 2009).

One often recurring aspect in both environmental and bird conservation per-ceptions is the importance of raising awareness and education about these issues (Photos 4.13 and 4.14). This overlaps with the current lack of law enforcement.

Little was known about hunting and environmental legislation and education could contribute to a better understanding. Birds help to control insect levels but this was not often mentioned by interviewees in this study, although those in Hi-ga did talk about a serious locust plague in 2010. Using chemicals aHi-gainst lo-custs, grasshoppers, and other insects was suggested, but raising awareness could highlight the important role that birds play in reducing locust and grasshopper numbers.52 Apart from LCG members, few inhabitants were aware of the many migrant birds from Europe that winter in their area. Among those who did know about them, this was a source of pride and another reason for protecting them.

Inhabitants’ perceptions and conservation incentives were influenced by local context and individual characteristics. These variables should therefore be con-sidered and used to direct conservation in a more efficient manner, targeting the issues that matter to local inhabitants. For example, stakeholder groups can be used to address individual characteristics, including livelihood, local authority, and children groups, but also churches and mosques. LCG members held similar views to non-members but were generally more positive about bird conservation.

Infield & Namara (2001) suggest that involving local inhabitants can produce significant improvements in conservation attitudes. Children were generally less connected with the environment and birds and showed less interest in

52 About 90% of Burkina Faso’s population is engaged in subsistence agriculture (CIA 2014). However, the agricultural yields of these farmers can be seriously impacted by grasshoppers and migrating infes-tations of locusts, with the country’s Sahel region being the worst affected. Grasshoppers are an annu-al problem, while locusts are erratic and the damage they cause varies greatly over time periods of ten to twenty years. Many locusts and grasshopper species are considered pests in Burkina Faso and chemicals are being used for control purposes. Various studies have shown the important role bird species play in reducing grasshopper and locust numbers. In Africa, 537 bird species from 61 families prey on locusts and grasshoppers and many of these are found in the Sahel: raptors; herons; storks;

crows; and songbirds. The abdim’s stork’s (C. abdimii) movements are even in synchrony with the seasonal movements of grasshoppers, at least in Niger (USAID 1991; Zwarts et al. 2009).

tion issues. Moreover, while children regularly hunted birds with slingshots, none of them were familiar with the system of hunting permits. Together with teachers and curriculum developers, a relevant and meaningful approach needs to be de-veloped to educate youngsters about hunting legislation and the environment, including about birds and their contribution to the quality of people’s lives in the region. Similarly, local context should be considered, including the area’s specif-ic environmental conditions, the occurrence of local events, and the level of hu-man development. For example, after the occurrence of recent floods and (asso-ciated) erosion issues, the trees’ capacity to prevent or limit floods and erosion can be explained to promote the protection and planting of tree seedlings. Fur-ther, conservation actions that are relevant for the inhabitants’ local environment should be communicated, as should those, albeit to a lesser extent, that are rele-vant to the wider environment. Similarly, issues should be addressed that are rel-evant in developed or less-developed areas, according to the local context, in-cluding through understanding the level of reliance on, and the level of interrela-tion with the natural environment.

Inhabitants’ conservation incentives were mainly focused on people’s own or their communities’ interests. Not surprisingly, when livelihoods were under threat, conservation incentives diminished. Conservation should therefore ad-dress the issues of bird pests for crop cultivation. Elliot et al. (2014) have indi-cated that pesticide spraying and the use of explosives as standard practice to control bird-breeding colonies or roosts that threaten crops in Africa have nega-tive side effects that affect non-target species and also the environment. With further refinement and the establishment of proper regulations, using mist nets to control colonies or roosts would seem likely to be a viable alternative to the spraying of pesticides. In addition, any birds caught can be used as food for local people (Elliot et al. 2014).53

Although most of the literature on local environmental and conservation per-ceptions is limited to protected areas (see e.g. Tessema et al. 2010; Infield &

Namara 2001; Gillingham & Lee 1999), most of the world’s biodiversity is not in protected areas but on lands and waters used by people for their livelihoods (Berkes 2013). The research areas selected had no protected status. Creating pro-tected areas is unlikely to be effective for migrant (land) bird conservation as many species are found in relatively low densities across the wider agricultural landscape on land that is owned and managed by rural people who are living in extreme poverty (Adams et al. 2014; Bernd de Bruijn, senior international policy officer at Vogelbescherming Nederland, pers. comm. November 2015). The

53 However, according to several Sourou inhabitants, small birds are rarely consumed because there is virtually no meat on them. Elliot et al. (2014) indicated that people in some regions are not interested in eating birds such as queleas (Quelea), although at least part of the population in most countries re-gards them as a valuable addition to their diet.

tion of protected areas was suggested by only one interviewee. Instead, promot-ing sustainable land-use practices that contribute to habitat restoration and con-servation as well as better livelihoods for local people would seem more appro-priate (Van den Bergh 2014). This current study has highlighted how poor, rural people are mindful of the crucial relationship between their livelihoods and the natural environment, in which birds play a multitude of roles and local inhabit-ants demonstrate a positive attitude towards (bird) conservation, provided that their own livelihoods are not threatened.

Photos4.13 & 4.14 Awareness raising and education can be valuable conservation tools

To conclude, the lives and livelihoods of the local inhabitants were strongly interrelated with the natural environment, mainly through the environment’s sup-porting and provision services, which were both linked to procuring a livelihood.

Similarly, bird values were often linked with people’s livelihood (activities). In addition, aesthetic value was frequently attributed to birds. Indeed, peoples’ in-centives for bird conservation focused mainly on respondents’ own interests, fol-lowed by aesthetic features. Bird conservation should therefore focus on positive links between bird(s) (conservation) and individual livelihood aspects. Increasing the number of trees is the most important aspect in this regard. This should be stimulated at local (farm) level, or at most at community level, thus linking it to people’s own livelihood. Furthermore, some (of the earlier mentioned) less well known (potential) conservation incentives should be explained and promoted in such a way that people can recognize the actual benefits of conservation. Thus, local inhabitants have to understand that certain conservation measures are in their own interests, and conflicts with wildlife should be addressed. The many aesthetic values, particularly for birds, serve as conservation incentives, which

can be facilitated by communicating and promoting these values. This does not mean, however, that conservation action should be entirely voluntary, and that law enforcement can be neglected. On the contrary, the two concepts are not mu-tually exclusive and both should be pursued. Importantly, the conservation ef-forts should take into consideration local context and individual characteristics, to make them more efficient, effective, and relevant for the targeted population.

When the above aspects are taken into account, bird conservation can positively contribute to local inhabitants’ livelihoods and socio-cultural values, specifically in a way that they themselves value.